Works Minister Fashola: Roads not that bad?
It was with infinite sadness that I read a statement that was credited to respected Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, former governor of Lagos State, to the effect that Nigerian ‘roads were not as bad as we portray them’. For those who have travelled the roads in Nigeria in the last one year, the statement flies in the face of hard facts. For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to quote the Hon. Minister in full: “the roads are not as bad as they are often portrayed. I know that this is going to be your headline, but the roads are not that bad”. I refused to believe the statement credited to the poster boy for good governance in his Lagos days, some body I had had absolute faith in; that if there was going to be any change, it would come with the presence of such men of character like Raji Fashola. This statement therefor is out of character; it is a misjudgement of the situation and he owes his admirers an apology, I dare say.
Mr. Fashola shot into national fame as Governor of Lagos because of his no-nonsense and strategic approach to governance. He walked the talk. He drove round Lagos without the typical fanfare of state governors to know the real problems of the state. The Badagry Marina rail track which he started was a strategic project which subsequent governments have abandoned. Indeed, when it came to light that Fashola’s second term ambition as governor of Lagos was threatened, I was one of those who said that if Fashola was denied the opportunity, all hope was lost for Nigeria and migration should be an option. I was that steadfast. At a point Fashola was quoted as saying that we should pray that our loyalty is not tested. Very deep, very instructive in godfather politics. When he was appointed minister to head three super ministries during President Buhari’s first term, I was also one of those who felt that the powers-that-be were bent on demystifying the efficient and goal-getting Minister. I was not proved wrong. When the first tenure ended, Nigerians were not impressed. Fashola, who had once boasted that a government that could not solve the power problem had no business being in government, became an apology to the nation on power generation and distribution.
The truth is that roads, both state and federal across the country, are in a terrible shape. The craters which we run into when travelling Lagos-Benin on to Warri, the huge potholes if you travel by road to Abuja and even between Abuja and Minna show that we are in a state of emergency. In some cases, the roads have virtually disappeared. Travellers drive into the bush through old routes in a very hazardous manner. Heavy duty trucks break down in some cases because of the bad roads causing a build up of traffic. A journey of one hour could last three hours or more. Terrible accidents leading to loss of lives have also been on the increase. This is the reality which Nigerians travel every day. The statement by Fashola therefore is unfortunate. It is a desperate situation and it requires desperate measures. It has also happened that when state governments want to intervene, the federal authorities are reluctant to give approval. The purpose of this essay is to suggest positive steps to be taken in order to address this menace.
What can be done? What should be done? Short term measures include massive deployment of funds to road rehabilitation and reconstruction across the country. This would pump money into circulation and stimulate the economy thereby leading to job and wealth creation. Reputable contractors whose bills of quantity have been professionally verified should swing into action and make Nigeria a construction site. But beyond this, the road camp option which FERMA stands for should be vigorously pursued. Bad spots develop slowly. If we have a strong maintenance culture there should be immediate intervention before a mole hill becomes a mountain.
Road construction and maintenance require a change structurally. The roads which are under the control of the federal governments are too many. The federal government should consider the option of ceding some roads to the states and concentrate on issues that are more fundamental. In other words, road construction and maintenance in Nigeria cannot really improve as long as we maintain the present allocation of resources to the federal government and the states.
Mr. Fashola should remember that he made a name for himself as governor of Lagos State and ought to focus on retaining the positive image. I also know that the field of play at national level is somewhat different from the State’s. But whatever happens, the image of the name and the name itself must be kept. The ‘roads are not so bad’ statement is a serious gaffe. There are whispers across the country whether or not the government has an agenda that could make nonsense of those who takes exception to government’s moves. The name which one has made in years of service should not be muddied by a few reckless remarks because of the giddiness of power.
It is not easy to earn a good name through governance in Nigeria. People enter with a good name and come out with a dented image. There must be something about political power in Nigeria that makes this a recurring nightmare. Too many lives have been lost through bad roads this year. Too many businesses have collapsed because a trailer-load of goods crashed while moving from one destination to another. I suggest that the Honourable Minister should do a road trip from Abuja to Lagos or from Lagos to Port Harcourt. I suggest also that all ministers and legislators should travel by road during these last months of the year led by Minister of Works. At the end of the trips, our dear minister would have a new story to tell.
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